Discussion of ban on recreational marijuana in Sarasota County delayed because of commissioner’s absence

Agenda item rescheduled for afternoon of July 10

Canmabis sativa is one variety of marijuana. Photo by Michael de Benutzer via Wikimedia Commons

During their regular meeting on June 13, the Sarasota County commissioners were scheduled to discuss whether to authorize a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the sale, cultivation and processing of non-medical marijuana in the county.

The board had voted unanimously on May 22 to ask County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh to have his staff draft the ordinance. Commissioner Michael Moran made the motion that day, after talking with his colleagues about a report DeMarsh had prepared — at the commission’s request — regarding medical and non-medical marijuana issues.

However, Moran was absent from both the June 12 and June 13 meetings. Chair Nancy Detert explained that he had had a death in the family. Therefore, Detert announced early during the June 13 session that the board would reschedule the marijuana agenda item until after his return.

County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester told The Sarasota News Leader that the discussion has been set for the afternoon of the board’s July 10 meeting, which will be held at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.

Moran was the only commissioner to cast “No” votes in April, when the board approved special exceptions for two medical marijuana dispensaries — one in Venice; the other, on Fruitville Road in Sarasota. His concern, as he put it, is “that this medical marijuana is a Trojan horse for recreational [marijuana].”

Other commissioners voiced worries in April that a plethora of applications for medical marijuana dispensaries could be submitted to the county. The reason the county has been able to limit those dispensaries to specific zoning districts, DeMarsh noted in his May 3 report, is because the county had a medical marijuana ordinance in place before the Legislature enacted a law governing medical marijuana. Under the provisions of that ordinance, an applicant must obtain a special exception from the County Commission to open a dispensary.

On May 22, DeMarsh cautioned that the state ultimately could pre-empt any county regulation of recreational marijuana, if the drug is legalized by referendum or by the Legislature.

County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh. File photo

Nonetheless, the commissioners asked him to proceed with drafting an ordinance.

Detert was not present for that discussion because of illness.

Although the board members this week agreed to delay the agenda item regarding the draft ordinance — which would amend the county’s 2014 law governing medical marijuana — one person did address them on the topic.

During the Open to the Public period at the start of the afternoon session on June 13, Michelle Britner started out by noting that President Donald Trump had announced that he likely would support a congressional effort to lift the federal ban on marijuana. Trump made the remarks while he was preparing to fly to Canada for the G-7 summit last week, she said.

When Amendment 2, proposing the legalization of medical marijuana, was on the November 2016 ballot in Florida, she continued, 71.3% of the voters approved it. (It won 70.4% voter approval in Sarasota County.)

Michelle Britner. News Leader photo

“I’d like to take it a step further,” Britner said. “Our city, our county, our state and our country allow the consumption of alcohol” for adults, generally those 21 and older, she told the board. Yet, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 people die each day because of drunken-driving or alcohol-related accidents. Each year, she added, statistics show 1.6 million people are killed in incidents involving texting and driving.

“Cannabis can improve health and well being,” as research has shown, she pointed out. “So the question is, Is the prohibition based on fact or personal bias?”

Detert thanked her for her remarks.

Amending the 2014 law

The draft of the proposed amendment to the county’s 2014 ordinance regarding medical marijuana was provided to the commissioners in their agenda packets for the June 13 meeting. Among its opening clauses, the draft says “that the Board of County Commissioners is concerned that some additional amendment to the Florida Constitution or Florida Statutes may allow sales of recreational or other non-medical marijuana from the dispensaries approved for medical marijuana, or from other locations that have not been evaluated for their impacts on the public health, safety, and welfare.”

Another clause points out that the state “preempted certain local restrictions as to Medical Marijuana, but did not limit the ability of local governments to regulate sales of other marijuana.”

The draft includes language saying, “No Non-Medical Marijuana shall be sold, provided, exchanged, or otherwise vended within unincorporated Sarasota County.” The draft defines “Non-Medical Marijuana” as “All Marijuana that is not Medical Marijuana.”

In another section, regarding special exception use standards, proposed new text says, “No research or processing of Non-Medical Marijuana shall take place within unincorporated Sarasota County.”

DeMarsh did note in a June 13 memo to the board, as part of its agenda packet, that “[t]hese regulations do not address an approved medical marijuana dispensary converting into a non-medical marijuana dispensary if recreational marijuana becomes legal in Florida.”